Clause 1 — Introduction

Fireworks Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:38 am on 13th June 2003.

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 66, in page 3, line 28 [Clause 5], at end insert—

'( ) Subsections (1) and (2) shall not apply to class I and class II fireworks.'.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The amendment is relevant to the short discussion that we have just had, because it is about ministerial power and how it should be controlled by this House. The amendment would remove from clause 1 the power of the Minister to change the definition of fireworks by regulation rather than by primary legislation. That power goes to the root of the concerns that many people have about the wide scope of the Bill.

It was clear on Second Reading and in Committee that there is a tension between manufacturers of fireworks, who say that it is impossible to have what we recognise as a firework unless it is manufactured to a specification of 120 dB maximum, and those who buy into the idea that the only way to proceed in this country is to have a limit of 95 dB—a perfectly legitimate view, which I understand is supported by many hon. Members. However, far from clarifying their views, the Government have been fudging the issue. Now we are on Report it is time to hear the Minister make a clear and unequivocal statement of the Government's intentions on definitions of fireworks and the noise limits relating to them.

The supply of fireworks is governed currently by a British standard on fireworks, BS7114. Regulation 3(1) of the Firework (Safety) Regulations 1997 states:

"Subject to paragraphs (3) and (4) and without prejudice to regulation 7 below, no person shall supply a category 1 firework, a category 2 firework or a category 3 firework which does not comply with the relevant requirements of Part 2 of BS 7114 when tested in accordance with the appropriate test method (if any) in Part 3 of BS 7114."

BS7114 classifies fireworks into three specific categories considered suitable for use by the general public and a fourth category suitable only for professional users.

Category 1 fireworks are suitable for use inside domestic buildings—for most of us, pretty innocuous fireworks. Category 2 fireworks are for outdoor use in relatively confined areas. Many people, especially young people, might regard them as rather boring fireworks. I do not include myself in the category of people that regards them as boring, but they are essentially safe fireworks. My hon. Friend Mr. Leigh, whom I am delighted to see in his place this morning, has another amendment in the group that would restrict all the regulations in the Bill and prevent them from being applied to fireworks in categories 1 and 2. I support that effort, which is in compliance with common sense and good regulation.Category 3 fireworks are for use in large outdoor spaces, and category 4 are not intended for sale to the general public. Fireworks and assemblies classified as category 1, 2 or 3 must comply with the requirements of BS7114, which is in addition to the legal duty placed on suppliers under the Consumer Protection Act 1987.

The Bill defines fireworks as being fireworks for the purposes of British standard specifications relating to fireworks published on 30 November 1988, BS7114, to which I have been referring, or any British standard specification replacing it—or what would be fireworks for those purposes if they were intended as a form of entertainment. I should have thought that that definition of fireworks is perfectly adequate for our purposes. Will the Minister explain why the promoter of the Bill and the Government are supporting clause 1(2), which confers a power to change the definition of fireworks?

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am following my hon. Friend's argument so far, but I hope that at some stage of his analysis he will tell the House why he is not satisfied with the safeguards in clause 2. On this occasion, and rather unusually, the Government have gone a considerable way to reassure us. Although the Secretary of State is given the power to make regulations in clause 1(2), my reading of clause 2 is that it provides detailed safeguards in respect of those regulations. Why is my hon. Friend not satisfied with clause 2, which strikes me as providing a powerful case for giving the Secretary of State the powers that my hon. Friend wishes to delete?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I understand my right hon. Friend's view, but he may not have seen a Government-inspired amendment to clause 2 that would delete subsection (2)—a provision inserted by the Minister by agreement in Committee. It is now apparently to be deleted by the promoter and the Government in an amendment. We will have an opportunity to debate the implications later, but it is certainly one of the reasons why I believe that the safeguards in clause 2 are inadequate to control the Secretary of State's powers to define fireworks.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 9:45 am, 13th June 2003

I am grateful for that, but I hope that my hon. Friend is not going to skip lightly over the other provisions of clause 2, which would remain even if the Minister were to have her way. It talks at length about consultation and other matters. I hope that my hon. Friend will take a balanced view of the problem, rather than simply home in on what the Minister appears to be doing.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

As my right hon. Friend would expect, I take a balanced view of the problem, but he may not have noticed that clause 2(1) states:

"The Secretary of State may by regulations . . . make any provision which the Secretary of State considers appropriate . . . for securing that there is no risk that use of fireworks will have the consequences specified in subsection (3)", which would give the Secretary of State carte blanche to use that provision to ban all fireworks, or all fireworks other than indoor fireworks. Indeed, that provision could be sufficient to ban even sparklers. Even a sparkler can be heated up and pushed into someone's eye, causing a serious injury, if not death—and the same could be done to a captive animal.

My right hon. Friend is an expert in saying that the Bill should be examined as a whole rather than in individual parts, but the interaction of clause 2 with the power in clause 1(2) to amend the definition of fireworks should cause hon. Members on both sides of the House to be concerned. The Bill, as I say, gives carte blanche to the Secretary of State to draw up a set of regulations that, when presented to the House, would not be capable of amendment.

Those of us who have studied, or begun to study, the detail of fireworks legislation know that it is a fiendishly complicated subject. The Minister said on Second Reading that she hoped that the detail of the Bill would be considered at much greater length in Committee than on Second Reading. I have to tell the House, however, that Second Reading took about three hours, and the Committee stage less than two hours. That was not detailed scrutiny of the Bill. If hon. Members feel that it is unnecessary to scrutinise the Bill at this stage, all I can say is that the responsibility of those who were not members of the Standing Committee that considered the Bill is all the greater because of the failure of those who did sit on that Committee—I am sorry if that causes embarrassment on the Opposition Front Bench—to ask pertinent questions. A good example of a pertinent question is why the Secretary of State should have the power under clause 1(2) to substitute a new definition of fireworks.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

My hon. Friend is being a little harsh. Although we delegate responsibility to our colleagues in Committee to consider a Bill in detail, the whole point of Report stage is that those who did not have the privilege of being on the Committee have an opportunity to consider the Bill again in the light of what the Committee has done. That justifies what we are doing today.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My right hon. Friend is right. It may be that the members of the Committee were not able to go into sufficient detail on the Bill because no regulatory impact assessment had been produced at that stage.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would confine his remarks to his amendment.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I will indeed confine my remarks to the issues before us today, as set out on the Order Paper and in the first group of amendments. It is worth reminding the House of what the Bill's promoter said on Second Reading:

"I do not intend that the Bill should extend to items such as pyrotechnic bird-scarers, small explosive charges for car airbags, amateur rocket motors or marine distress flares . . . They are not currently classed as fireworks, and that will continue."

However, the Bill will give the Minister the power to include, through regulation, those very items that the sponsor of the Bill assured the House he did not intend to include in the ambit of the Bill. If that does not set the alarms bells ringing, I do not know what will.

In the same debate, my hon. Friend Richard Ottaway asked the Bill's promoter, Mr. Tynan, whether he had

"assurances from the Minister that the things for which he asks will happen?"

In essence, my hon. Friend was asking whether the Bill's promoter trusted the Minister. The hon. Member for Hamilton, South replied:

"I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. It is important that I set out, after my consultations and discussions, the content that I believe should be included in the Bill. It is an enabling Bill, and it is essential that the Minister listen to the voice of Members and of the general public outside. Under the circumstances, I hope that that will be acceptable to the hon. Gentleman."—[Hansard, 28 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 482–86.]

I do not know whether that was acceptable to my hon. Friend, but it would not have been acceptable to me as a response to a reasonable inquiry about whether the Minister had given any assurances to the promoter that what he did not want in the Bill would not subsequently be added through regulation. The hon. Member for Hamilton, South needs to apply his mind to that point, because the power could be used to ban those very items that he said would not be banned. It could also be used to introduce other controls over fireworks, and it could form part of the agenda for those who wish to ban fireworks completely. Much needs to be done to enforce better control over noise from, and abuse of, fireworks, but I believe that we should be allowed to use fireworks. There is scope for regulation, but the enormous powers given in the Bill should be circumscribed.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We hear much from people who do not like fireworks, but those who do like fireworks are not necessarily minded to write to their Member of Parliament to say so. Millions of people in this country enjoy fireworks, which is why we want the Bill to be balanced.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend is right. Listening to the voice of Members and the general public, as the hon. Member for Hamilton, South said on Second Reading, is what this Chamber is all about. I know from my constituents that they do not wish to have an outright ban on fireworks, nor do they wish to see the decibel limit on fireworks reduced to such a level that the firework cannot be propelled into the sky and explode in the way that gives pleasure to those watching it.

I have spoken to the British Fireworks Association, and it assures me that if the decibel limit is reduced below 120—the proposed European standard, but not contained in the British standard—it will not be possible to produce fireworks that would be propelled into the sky to explode with a bang. On Second Reading and in Committee, I looked for evidence of the thinking of the promoter and the Minister on that issue. Unfortunately, every time someone made a point, whether for the 120 dB limit or for the 95 dB limit, the Minister and the promoter said something like, "Yes, I am on your side. It'll be all right on the day." They were building ambiguity into the debate. It was called seeking consensus, but one cannot have a consensus between those who want a 95 dB limit on fireworks, which excludes most of what we know as fireworks, and those who want a 120 dB limit, which could control the noisiest fireworks but would not stop fireworks containing sufficient propellant and explosive to explode in the sky. It is the exploding in the sky that actually causes the noise.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that decibels work on a logarithmic scale. Hon. Members may be confused by the apparently small difference between 95 dB and 120 dB, but it is vast. The level of 120 dB is like standing next to a jet engine and 95 dB is more like loud street noise. Certainly, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has said that 95 dB is reasonable for their animals, because it covers traffic noise, for example. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is sound guidance?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I agree with my hon. Friend that ambient traffic noise can reach 95 dB. Indeed, it was claimed in Committee that if one dropped a book from a reasonable height, the sound would reach 95 dB, although if we dropped all the Chancellor's euro documents from a similar height, they would probably produce 120 dB. The 120 dB limit is not unreasonable. Indeed, that is the limit that the Europeans are adopting as a standard. If my hon. Friend thinks that it is an unreasonable limit, he should consider the consequences of legislating for a lower limit. What will happen is that, under the single market—which I support—people will be able to go and purchase fireworks on the continent that are in accordance with the European standard and bring them back to this country. A new smuggling trade might develop, to rival those for alcohol, tobacco and, indeed, humans.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Treasury)

My hon. Friend raises an interesting issue about the compatibility of much of the Bill with the single European market. As I understand it, we cannot impose restrictions on the trade of goods within the single market. Is that not the case?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It must be the case. I spoke to the boss of the British Fireworks Association about that and he said that he thought that it might be possible, under European law as it exists at the moment, for regulations to be made here that would introduce a lower decibel limit on fireworks than prevails on the continent. I must admit to my hon. Friend that I did not rigorously go into that matter, but the proposal is sufficient to cause alarm bells to ring for me—and probably for my hon. Friend. If we try to establish a much lower decibel limit for fireworks in this country than the one that applies on the continent, it would engender and encourage an illegal trade in fireworks.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London) 10:00 am, 13th June 2003

That is an extremely valid point. Will my hon. Friend go into more detail about the prospect of an illegal trade? In this country, owing partly to the higher tax, more than 30 per cent. of tobacco—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. We are debating an amendment about the definition of "fireworks".

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We are indeed, and it is important that there should be compatibility between the definition of "fireworks" in this country and that used on the continent. If no such compatibility exists, there will be smuggling, in the same way that there is smuggling of fuel and tobacco owing to the lack of compatibility in the price and taxation of those products.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I am sorry to press my hon. Friend on this matter. Perhaps if he does not know the answer to my question, the Minister could intervene on him to provide it. If we had a different legal definition of "fireworks" from the definition that applies on the continent, would it not be contradictory to the principles of the single market? I support the intention of the Bill to deal with nuisance, but the provisions must be legal. If my hon. Friend cannot answer that point, perhaps the Minister can.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I hope that the Minister will be able to answer that question, and I will certainly allow her to intervene on me to do so. That would inform the debate further.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether the Bill is compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. Manufacturers in the UK and Europe are worried that an entirely arbitrary new definition, as proposed in clause 1(2), could lead to certain problems. I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to intervene on my hon. Friend on this important matter.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

So do I. This is all part of the debate about the power contained in clause 1 as it is presently drafted. On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Hamilton, South said:

"In presenting the Bill to the House, I am aware that there are those who may be worried by the fact that this is an enabling Bill. I, too, have some concerns about some of the visions of draconian provisions being enacted using the scope of powers granted under the Bill. I am, however, reassured by the discussions that I have had in preparing the Bill. I believe that with proper thought and scrutiny"— we are certainly giving the Bill those things today—

"the regulations made under it would not be an instrument of tyranny."—

The trouble is that there will not be much opportunity for the scrutiny of any regulations made under this provision, because they will be debated for a maximum of 90 minutes and will not be capable of amendment. Effectively, all the Members of the House will be excluded from that process and there will be no opportunity to give the measures the scrutiny that the hon. Gentleman says he wants. He went on:

"This is not a killjoy Bill. As those with expertise have agreed, it is a sensible"—[Hansard, 28 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 486.]

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. We are now getting into a Second Reading debate. I refer the hon. Gentleman once more to the amendments to this part of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for ensuring that we stick to the issues under discussion. I hope that the hon. Member for Hamilton, South will accept the amendment. Clause 1(2) gives a very wide-ranging power to the Minister effectively to ban all fireworks by changing the definition of "fireworks" in the Bill. It is in the context of how that power might be used that I am quoting what the hon. Gentleman said on Second Reading.

When the issue of noise came up in Committee, there were some interesting exchanges of views. The hon. Member for Hamilton, South said:

"As I am sure the Minister will make clear when she responds,"— that is an example of the triumph of hope over experience that often occurs in Committee—

"the sensible way forward would be to reach a consensus about the decibel level that has the least effect on animals and the elderly. If we can do that, we shall have taken a major step forward, although we may not have achieved the full loaf. That is how we should proceed on the clause, but the Minister will want to make her position clear."

The hon. Gentleman continued:

"In its "Quiet Please" report, the RSPCA recognises the fact that changing the construction of fireworks may result in a lower decibel level. I would hate to see the British Fireworks Association start a lobbying campaign, with Opposition parties asking for opposition to the Bill on the basis that we were injuring the industry. It is therefore important that we reach a consensus, and an attempt has been made to do that as regards the noise level. The clause is a way forward, and I hope that the Minister will listen to the concerns that have been expressed this afternoon."

If such a consensus has been reached on the appropriate noise level for fireworks, will the Minister tell us what it is, and give the House an undertaking that the Government will not use any of the powers in the Bill—particularly those in clause 1—to change that verdict? All that is happening at the moment is that we are being told that the British Fireworks Association wants a limit of 120 dB while those on the other side of the argument want 95 dB.

Mr. Weir intervened in that same debate in Committee. He said:

"I fully recognise that the clause gives the Minister powers. We shall find out how effective it is once we see the regulations, but we must first get to that stage. Like the hon. Member for Hamilton, South, I would be worried if we became bogged down in the nitty-gritty at this stage."

That is a most extraordinary comment. Surely the Standing Committee is precisely the stage at which we should get bogged down in the nitty-gritty and ask pertinent questions, because we shall certainly not be able to do so when we are presented with a set of regulations that we can simply either accept or reject. The hon. Gentleman went on:

"Let us get the principle on the statute book—we can argue about the nitty-gritty of the regulations thereafter."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 30 April 2003; c. 10–11.]

That is a wholly misconceived approach, which gives the Government the power to keep their secret agenda and declare their hand only after this enabling Bill has gone through. This is why I am seeking an assurance from the Minister on noise limits in particular. If we do not get such an assurance, we might be minded to accuse the Government of giving the impression that they are on the side of those who want the 95 dB limit, while secretly going for the 120 dB limit, or vice versa.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Scottish National Party, Angus

The point that I was making in Committee is that fireworks change over time. That is one of the difficulties of trying to put into the Bill a definition of "fireworks". A particular type of firework could have been banned, but there could be changes later. If we are too prescriptive at this stage, the Bill will be completely ineffective. By its very nature, this provision will have to be introduced by way of regulation.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Does he have a specific example of an item that is not defined as a firework but which might be included as such if the definition were changed? I have referred to some, which the hon. Member for Hamilton, South has assured us will not be included.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Scottish National Party, Angus

The hon. Gentleman misconstrues the point. Fireworks evolve over time. When we were young there were small bangers and Catherine-wheels; nowadays there are massive great rockets.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Surely that is covered by the British standard specification. The Bill makes it clear that it is covered by both the existing specification and any subsequent amendments to it. As I said at the outset, fireworks that do not comply with the specification are already subject to controls and are outlawed. What is the agenda that causes the Minister to see a need for a power to change the definition of fireworks in secondary legislation?

The noise issue was discussed in Committee. The promoter said

"Although we could have a debate about the noise levels that we could set, does my hon. Friend accept that if, on the basis of, say, the 'Quiet Please' report, we set the noise level at 95 dB and we lost the Bill, that would be a major problem in dealing with fireworks? If so, does my hon. Friend accept that everything will depend on the Minister's implementation of the clause to the full, on the basis of the concerns that he and others have expressed?"

Today—like many other Members, no doubt—I received a letter from a number of organisations associated with the Bill's promotion: the Pet Care Trust, the Kennel Club, the RSPCA, the Blue Cross, the National Canine Defence League, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and Battersea Dogs Home. They say that there is a consensus in favour of the Bill which includes not just a coalition of animal welfare organisations but the British Fireworks Association. That consensus, however, is due to ignorance of the decibel level that will feature in future regulation by the Minister, and ignorance of the true intent.

I know that the Minister has had discussions with the fireworks industry. Perhaps she can tell us a bit more about the assurances that she can give. A relatively short time ago, she said that the amendments to the regulations produced by the Government in 1997 were sufficient to deal with the mischief of firework noise and nuisance—which I am the first to accept is a real problem for many people, including a number of my constituents.

In a sense this is a narrow amendment, but I think that the response to it will affect the whole tenor of today's debate. Many fears—mine, certainly—will be allayed if the promoter or the Minister says unequivocally that there is no intention of introducing a noise standard that differs from the European standard.

There is a built-in conflict, which was identified in Committee. A Member whose constituency I cannot remember said:

"A 120 dB limit is not at all reasonable or sensible. I understand that that level, which the European Union perhaps advocates, is the equivalent of a jet aircraft at 100 m or a loud car horn at 1 m. It is far too loud. That is why I am attracted by the RSPCA's 'Quiet Please' campaign . . . because it gives us a starting point. Our constituents want the control of noise to be the prime consideration of the House of Commons in dealing with fireworks, which is why that campaign should be a starting point. We should at least be able to tell our constituents why 95 dB is not appropriate, reasonable or consensual, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South suggested it was not."

Unless we are given a clear response, as I hope we will be, Members will be saying to one group of constituents that the Government are in favour of 95 dB and assuring another group that the Government are committed to a minimum level of 120 dB. A deep chasm lies between the two sides. I fear that the broad terms of the Bill in its current form, and in particular the power in clause 1, enable the Government to come down on one side or the other without providing any opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny and amendment.

I hoped that reading what the Minister said in Committee would clarify the Government's intentions, but it did not. The Minister said

"Noise was mentioned in many contributions. I have met the RSPCA. Indeed, I commended it on producing the document entitled 'Quiet Please—Loud fireworks frighten animals' and on working to reduce the alarm and distress caused to animals by fireworks, which my hon. Friend Shona McIsaac and others"—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker 10:15 am, 13th June 2003

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now beginning to talk about the next group of amendments, headed "Risk and the consequences of fireworks". He must address himself to amendment No. 40.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am trying to confine my remarks to the definition of fireworks, Madam Deputy Speaker. The issue of definition includes the issue of the decibel level, and of whether the Government intend to introduce a maximum level. I will not say much more, because I am sure the Minister will speak for herself shortly, but I must challenge her on one point. In Committee, when asked whether she favoured the 95 dB or the 120 dB level, she said:

"I do not want to get technical or be drawn into technical arguments, but my hon. Friend talked about background noise with regard to how loud a noise seems. Other issues include proximity—whether it is a one-off or repeated noise, the environment in which it takes place" and so forth.

A Member asked:

"If my hon. Friend will indulge me in my zealotry, could she say how a scenario might develop whereby, through regulations, it could be dictated whether a firework with a noise level of, say, 120 dB was set off next door to someone's house or in a field half a mile away?"

The Minister said

"Obviously one cannot do that, as my hon. Friend is well aware. There is nothing absolute about sound. Where and how it is measured, and the environment in which it takes place, make a huge difference to its impact on humans and animals." —[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 30 April 2003; c. 12–13.]

She went on to say that the number of bangs on 5 November would be reduced as a result of an agreement with the fireworks organisations, an idea that I strongly support.

The Minister and the promoter and sponsors have ducked and weaved on the issue of the decibel level. Now is the time for that ducking and weaving to end. We need some clear speaking from the Government, the promoter and the sponsors. The proposal to remove the power in clause 1(2) will make that possible.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

Amendment No. 66 says that subsections (1) and (2) of clause 5

"shall not apply to class I and class II fireworks."

That goes to the heart of the Bill, as far as I can see. I understand that there is much concern about fireworks, safety and noise but I do not want us to create, as we appear to be creating today, an enabling Bill that will be used gradually to ratchet up controls on class 1 and class 2 fireworks.

Class 1 fireworks can be used indoors. With class 2 fireworks, one is advised to stand about 5 m away. They can be bought in a shop. We all grew up with those fireworks; they were used for small private displays in the garden with our parents on Guy Fawkes' night. Admittedly, they can be used wrongly, as my hon. Friend Mr. Chope said. Even a sparkler can blind someone. We allow small children to wave sparklers around. If they poke a sparkler in another child's eye, they could blind that child. There will always be a risk with those fireworks, but most responsible people take tremendous care to ensure that, at little private firework displays in the garden, children are kept back and they are nice occasions.

I accept that the Government are not in the business of banning private firework displays yet, although, in some parts of the world, including America, they have been. In some American counties, it is even difficult to buy a sparkler. What I am concerned about is that some people have an agenda and oppose any sale of fireworks to private individuals for such displays. I am concerned that we will gradually through this enabling Bill give the Minister power to deal with such relatively modest fireworks. My amendment is modest. One can support what the Bill is trying to do and still accept the amendment. The Bill contains great powers.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

My hon. Friend rightly expresses alarm at the prospect of a lot of new law coming in and a fully fledged outlawing of firework displays. He mentioned the United States of America—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's intervention will address the amendment under discussion.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

In many parts of France, except on Bastille day, firework displays are entirely outlawed, so I entirely share my hon. Friend's concerns.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

My amendment deals with class 1 and class 2 fireworks. I will describe later all the regulations and voluntary agreements that have been made but, in our gardens and little displays, we can compare the fireworks we see now with those we saw as children. There is a danger. If we look at the draconian powers in subsections (1) and (2), we can see that Ministers—I do not know about this Minister but Ministers come and go—could use the powers to ensure that it was impossible for a private individual to buy class 2 fireworks; I am prepared to accept that no Minister would ever make it impossible to obtain class 1 fireworks. Alternatively, there will be so many rules, regulations and limitations on the time of year at which they can be bought and all the rest of it that, in five, 10 or 15 years, the traditional British private little firework party will cease and one will not go along to the local Woolworth's to buy a little box of fireworks.

May I deal with amendment No. 40? The point about the decibel limit is very serious. As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said, the definition of fireworks is important. I do not think that either of us wants to kill the Bill. [Interruption.] What we want this morning—it is for the hon. Member who is in charge of the Bill to make his decision—is a sensible compromise. We are concerned as much as anyone else with noise and safety but I have talked to the British Fireworks Association. Frankly, if we define fireworks in such a way that people will be able to buy at a shop only fireworks that have a decibel limit of 90, the traditional private firework display in Britain will become meaningless. One will be able to buy a few little Roman candle-type things that splutter at the bottom of the garden and make a bit of light.

I do not think that that is what people mean by a firework display. To propel the rocket into the sky and let off a firework as we traditionally understand it, one has to make a noise. There have been horrendous descriptions of what 120 dB means, but if we think about 90 dB in terms of ambient traffic noise, we realise that, if ever we were to listen to what the anti-firework lobby is saying, our own private firework displays would mean very little.

One only has to look at the Bill to realise that it is an enabling Bill. I would not mind if, by studying the Bill today, studying the debates and the amendments that I have tabled, we could pin down the promoter of the Bill on precisely what he wants to do about class 1 and class 2 fireworks. He will have an opportunity to sum up but the Minister said herself that the Bill will provide a raft of new powers to control the misuse of fireworks. All I am trying to do with the amendments is ensure that the House has a serious debate about class 1 and class 2 fireworks.

The shadow spokesman, my hon. Friend Mr. Robathan, put it well when he said that the Bill had "little substance". When I read the Bill, that was my view—that it had already been watered down by the Government. However, on Second Reading, my hon. Friend went on to say:

"we can only guess what will come in its wake. For that reason, we are not entirely happy. I urge the Minister to concentrate on enforcement more than on anything else."—[Hansard, 28 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 496.]

I return to subsections (1) and (2) of clause 5. Remember that we are now dealing with sparklers, the sort of things one buys in a little box from Woolworth's. Subsection (1) says:

"Fireworks regulations may include provision—

(a) prohibiting persons from supplying, or offering or agreeing to supply, fireworks of a description specified in the regulations".

As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said, that gives this Minister, or a subsequent Minister, carte blanche to say in five years that fireworks will not be anything like the fireworks we have known and grown up with. Under subsection (2), the Minister could prohibit

"the purchase or possession of fireworks of a description specified in the regulations", which she introduced as a result of this enabling Bill. She could prohibit

"the purchase or possession of fireworks of a description specified in the regulations by persons of a description so specified."

As I understand it—and we are talking about class 1 and 2 fireworks—we are giving enormous powers to the Minister.

It will be said in answer to what I am saying, "I am sorry that the hon. Member for Gainsborough thinks that but we have to be concerned about noise and safety." I make one important point: however quiet one makes the fireworks, one can never make them entirely safe. We are talking about "fire" works and, if we were to make them so boring that they made no noise and could not be propelled into the sky, they would still be a potential risk. A flame would still be involved. Completely noiseless fireworks might achieve one's aim, because no one would want to buy them. However, they could still cause death and injury.

I am talking about class 1 and 2 fireworks, and it is true that, in 2001, there were 1,362 injuries. Therefore, it might be said that we have to deal with class 1 and 2 fireworks, because those are the fireworks that people buy and light in the garden. They are not used in the controlled environment of an organised firework display, and they are not the vast rockets that fly up into the sky. However, they are precisely the fireworks that cause injuries. That is why, like everyone else, I am in two minds about the Bill. I do not want to be accused of blocking a Bill if to do so means that there could be injuries in the future. That is not my intention; I want to improve the Bill. A figure of 1,362 injuries sounds a lot. No doubt a fair proportion of them were caused by class 2 fireworks, typically by children playing around with them.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:30 am, 13th June 2003

Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that, ironically, the number of injuries has gone up under this Government despite the fact that they made much play of introducing new regulations in 1997 to address the problem?

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

The Bill's supporters place much credence in the fact that the number of injuries is going up and that we face a crisis. I have had the advantage of carrying out some research on this subject and, if the 1996 figures are taken into account, we see more of a fluctuating picture rather than a build-up from 1997 that has reached crisis point now.

I suggested that many of the 1, 362 injuries in 2001 were caused by class 2 fireworks. That year, there were no fatalities, but the previous year there were 972 injuries and two fatalities—and one fatality is too many. However, let us consider the figures from the Department of Trade and Industry for accidents in the home and put the matter into perspective. The DTI's website shows that 2.7 million accidents requiring visits to hospital and nearly 4,000 fatalities resulted from accidents in the home.

Nobody wants anyone to be injured by class 1 and 2 fireworks. Nobody, we are told, wants to ban fireworks altogether. There have been injuries and fatalities, but 4,000 fatalities result from accidents in the home. I do not think that giving the Minister the draconian powers over class 1 and 2 fireworks—the fireworks that we buy and use in the garden—will save lives. All that would happen is that we would kill off the traditional private firework display and not save a single life. After all, 313,000 injuries resulted from road traffic accidents. About 40,000 of them were serious, and there were 3,450 fatalities. Our responses must be appropriate and proportionate.

Let us consider all the controls that are in place for class 1 and 2 fireworks. If one listens to the anti-firework lobby, one might think that the problem is completely out of control, that people can buy what they want, that fireworks cause a massive number of injuries, that animals are being scared and all the rest. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association tells us that only four or five dogs have to retire each year because of the distress caused by fireworks. I agree that it is unfortunate that four or five dogs have to retire each year, but I doubt whether that means that it is necessary to introduce such draconian powers to deal with the traditional fireworks that one can buy over the counter.

Many powers are available to deal with the sale and control of fireworks. I am prepared to accept that the Minister should perhaps have the powers in the Bill to deal with class 3 and 4 fireworks. However, we are dealing with class 1 and 2 fireworks and there is a requirement that all fireworks intended for use by the public must comply with BS 7114, the British standard referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. That already controls what we can buy. There is a permanent ban on the supply of category 3 bangers, including flash bangers, jumping crackers, Chinese crackers and fireworks with erratic flight. That ban came into force on 15 October 1997. As the Minister's predecessor showed on that date, there are powers to deal with the worst fireworks—those that actually irritate people.

An increase was made in the minimum age—from 16 to 18—of persons who can be supplied with fireworks. The supply of caps, cracker snaps, novelty matches, party poppers, serpents and throw-downs was made exempt from that prohibition, but, under the Explosives Acts, remain subject to the prohibition on sale to persons apparently under the age of 16. It is said that we need the Bill because people are buying the class 1 and 2 fireworks that cause injury, but all those regulations have already been made.

There is already a prohibition on retailers splitting large boxes and selling fireworks individually. That previously formed part of a voluntary agreement. Therefore, one has to be of a certain age to buy fireworks and one has to buy a box. In our families, there is no question of our children, with their little bit of pocket money, being able to buy one firework in the way that we did as children. Mothers and fathers have to buy a whole box, and that is quite expensive. There has also been an increase in the permitted length of hand-held sparkers from 450 mm to 470 mm.

I have gone through that list of regulations to show what has already been achieved. The need for the draconian powers in clause 5 is a mystery. There is already a prohibition on the supply to the public of class 2 bangers and on the supply of mini-rockets except for the purpose of special effects in the theatre, film and television. There is a requirement for sparklers to carry the additional warning that they are not suitable for children under five years of age and that all fireworks not suitable for use by the general public have clear warning labels to that effect. Size limits have been imposed on the supply to the general public of certain fireworks such as Roman candles, mines, batteries—for example, a cake of Roman candles—wheels and combinations. It is already one of the most regulated industries in this country. It is seriously concerned that it will cease to exist if the Bill is implemented in its current form.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now straying into remarks that are more suitable for Second Reading. They are not directed at his amendment.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that you think that I have managed to explain why the Bill should not apply to class 1 and 2 fireworks. All that the promoter has to do is stand up and accept my amendment. For the life of me, I do not understand why he does not. He cannot seriously argue that the main evil in terms of death, injury, noise and disturbance is class 1 and 2 fireworks. I shall wait to hear what he says in reply.

If the promoter says, "I'm sorry but many of the problems are caused by class 1 and 2 fireworks", I should like to see proof of that. The point about safety is dealt with by amendment No. 40. We will never make fireworks entirely safe unless we ban them altogether. However, there are so many controls on class 1 and 2 fireworks that we must ask why they need to be dealt with by the Bill. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 deals with noise nuisance and empowers local authorities to deal with noise from fixed premises. A local authority can deal with class 1 and 2 fireworks if it wants.

The British Fireworks Association is constantly making progress on the introduction of voluntary codes and procedures on the class 1 and 2 fireworks that can and cannot be sold over the counter. For instance, it announced on 14 October 2002 that it is to remove single-tube air bombs—a sort of cheap, noisy Roman candle—and small whistle-bang rockets from the market after they were linked to injuries. That came into effect on 1 January 2003. The association distributes 95 per cent. of all family fireworks in the UK. It is estimated that the withdrawal of those fireworks will result in the removal of 30 million loud bangs from the market every year. That measure is already in place.

The industry is one of the most regulated in the country and it is making great progress in dealing with class 1 and 2 fireworks. Why on earth do we need the extra powers? If the industry were not responding and had not made progress, or if the Minister did not have powers to deal with class 1 and 2 fireworks, it might be a different matter, but all those regulations were issued in October 1997 and the industry has dealt with some of the problems itself.

The Minister announced on 17 October 2002 tough new measures to cut the number of firework injuries. In the context of class 1 and 2 fireworks that are taken home, she said that there would be a new drive to encourage local councils to use their powers to curb the problem of noise and nuisance. Councils have the powers to do their job properly. The regulatory impact assessment notes that only 35 per cent. of local authorities offer a full night-time noise response service and that 18 per cent. of local authorities do not have any out-of-hours response cover.

Surely the reason why noise complaints have increased is the poor service provided by local authorities. We do not need the draconian new powers contained in clause 5. All we need is for local authorities to do what they are already fully empowered to do. If antisocial people are buying boxes of fireworks and taking them home where they cause all sorts of noise and are a nuisance to their neighbours in the middle of the night, at 1 or 2 am, the local authorities have all the powers they need to deal with that.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, Westbury

I am listening with great interest to what my hon. Friend says about existing powers. However, the British Fireworks Association, the British Pyrotechnics Association and the explosives group of the CBI want the Bill to succeed. They clearly do not necessarily share his feelings about existing powers and the ability of councils to sort out such nuisance.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I have not said that I do not want the Bill to succeed. I want to improve it. To be honest, the industry is in a dreadful cleft stick. It believes that if the Bill does not—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Once again, I remind the hon. Gentleman of the narrowness of the amendment and of the need to contain his remarks to it.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I shall try to respond to my hon. Friend Dr. Murrison later. He made a serious point.

I want to ensure that the Bill deals with the main evil—if there is an evil—of people who do not worry about other people and deliberately set out to cause distress and noise. Looking at recent history and what is contained in regulations, Acts of Parliament and announcements by the industry and the Minister, I do not believe that those serious powers need to apply to class 1 and 2 fireworks, the traditional fireworks that we buy and take home for our own firework displays. I hope that the Minister reassures us on that.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

I was reluctant to get involved in the debate, but arguments are being developed that are not relevant to the Bill. We have a proposal on the noise level, whether it be 120 or 95 dB. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has argued strongly for 95 dB. When I embarked on the Bill, I tried to get as much consensus as possible. People might think that that is not the right way to proceed, but I think that it is better to get agreement on how we move forward than constantly to bicker about the issues raised by fireworks legislation.

I tried to draw all the strands together and spent considerable time with the voluntary organisations because I thought that their views were important. I also wanted to reassure the British Fireworks Association and the explosives industry group that there was a problem with which we had to deal. The 120 dB has been discussed in Europe and will probably not come into effect until 2004. We could live with a Bill that included 120 dB. That would be acceptable. It is up to the Minister to say what she thinks about that, but I think that 120 dB is sensible at the moment.

The fireworks industry argued that a level lower than 120 dB would make the composition of fireworks and displays difficult. I attended a "Quiet Please" firework demonstration and understand the problems that the RSPCA raises, but I believe that the inclusion of 120 dB is sensible for the Bill's purposes.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:45 am, 13th June 2003

I am extremely grateful for what the hon. Gentleman just said. If that position had been made clear earlier we might not have had to spend an hour discussing the subject. Does he intend to table an amendment to that effect in another place? How does he intend to go about that because it is important to stipulate 120 dB in the Bill for the reasons set out earlier?

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

I must make it clear that the Bill is an enabling Bill to deal with present problems. There is no need to table such an amendment in another place. I hope that my assurances and those given to the British Fireworks Association by the Minister would be sufficient for the hon. Gentleman to accept the Bill as it stands. That would be sensible.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for replying to the debate in a moderate and sensible manner. He is clearly trying to make progress. With the greatest respect, however, I am afraid that his reassurances are not enough because he is not the Minister responsible. Such an assurance has to come from the Minister when she sums up.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

Perhaps it is my Scottish accent or that I talk too quickly and should slow down, but I made the point that I hope that the Minister will indicate in her response that 120 dB is satisfactory for the Bill's purposes. I hope that that clarifies the situation.

Mr. Leigh mentioned category 1 and 2 fireworks. If we only had fireworks of those categories, we would not have the problems that we do and would not be so concerned. Category 3 and 4 fireworks are the major problem and they are primarily what the Bill attempts to address. It is important to compromise. The last thing I want to do is to accuse Opposition Members of wrecking the Bill, which is important for our constituents. A jocular remark was made about the electorate. The Conservative Front-Bench spokesman said that millions of people enjoy fireworks. So do I. However, they enjoy fireworks when they are used safely and responsibly. That is what the Bill is about; it is not about trying to put pressure on the fireworks industry. We do not want to create a situation in which we cannot make progress with the Bill.

I ask the Minister to accept that category 1 and 2 fireworks are not a problem and that a noise level of 120 dB is not a problem. I hope that we can have a sensible debate on that basis. Until now, we have been prevaricating and widening the debate. Obviously, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is for you to determine the limits of the debate, and you have done so efficiently. I want a debate on the issues, not on supposition about what might happen.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

We are making a lot of progress, which is what Parliament should be about, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he is summing up the debate. He agrees with us about 120 db and about categories 1 and 2. I cannot remember his exact words, but he seemed to be saying that if there were only category 1 and 2 fireworks, there would be no problem. He has already requested that the Minister state that she does not want to the Bill to apply to those fireworks; do I take it that the hon. Gentleman is prepared for amendments to that effect to be tabled, perhaps in another place?

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

I will allow the Minister to respond to that question. Other issues have been raised by the amendments which I would like to address, but as I said, 120 dB and category 1 and 2 fireworks are not a problem.

The intention behind the Bill is that fireworks are used responsibly and enjoyably. I am conscious that today is Friday 13—black Friday, as far as many are concerned—and it would be a black day if two Conservative Members were able to destroy the work done over the past few months to reach agreement with all sections of the industry and with voluntary organisations. [Hon. Members: "And the House."] Indeed. I hope that those two Members will be content with what I have said.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Billericay

I want to make it clear that I support the Bill. In particular, I support licensing, so that there will be proper control over the sale of fireworks to the public, and the tightening of controls on the import of fireworks, which, in some cases, we know is a public health hazard because of low standards of manufacture.

I suggest to the Minister, however, that clarification about the regulations to be made under clause 1(2) would help the House tremendously. I share the concern expressed by my colleagues, which I believe Mr. Tynan has expressed in the past. We have a natural aversion to enabling powers. I cast no aspersions on the Minister, but the House should be concerned about allowing the Government, at a later stage, to introduce unknown powers or regulations over which we will have no control.

I am not suggesting that the Minister would introduce draconian powers, but it is only right that the House question her on the issue because the measure could be open to all sorts of abuse. We need to know the boundaries and parameters within which the Government are operating, so that we have some idea of what we are agreeing to in this enabling Bill. It goes against the interests of the House easily and freely to give enabling powers without clear guidance as to how the Government will use them. That is the main concern of Conservative Members, who support the Bill overall.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

For the benefit of any doubt, I reiterate that Her Majesty's Opposition support the Bill. Valuable points have been made, and I was particularly impressed by the sincerity of Mr. Tynan. I know that he has done a great deal of work on the Bill, and we all want it to improve life for our constituents, but that is not to say that it is perfect. We have expressed our concerns before, and the amendments go to the heart of those concerns.

We do not distrust the Minister, but as we all know, Ministers, and Governments, come and go. I hope that the Minister is still here this evening. [Interruption.] Not in the Chamber, although perhaps she would like to stay until then, but in her post. Our major concern is that the Bill gives the Government enormous enabling powers. In his speech on Second Reading, the hon. Member for Hamilton, South said that he did not like enabling Bills. I, too, dislike them, not because I distrust this Minister, but because I distrust the giving of unfettered power to any Government, be they Conservative or Labour.

I want to see my children and, if they become parents, my children's children enjoying fireworks parties, and I want my constituents and their children to enjoy them. I am concerned that the powers in the Bill could, in the hands of a different Government or a different Minister, lead to a complete ban on fireworks. As we have heard, the "Quiet Please" campaign is really about getting rid of fireworks altogether. I did not see the demonstration on Potters Green, but I spoke to some people who were there, and they said that it was a bit of a joke. One wonders what on earth was the point of those fireworks.

I take on board the severe criticism that I have received from my hon. Friend Mr. Chope, and I accept his blaming me for not adequately scrutinising the Bill in Committee. As I said, however, we want it to proceed—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman address his remarks to the amendments?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The amendments cut to the heart of the Henry VIII powers in the Bill. My right hon. Friend Mr. Forth, who is an expert on these matters, and on private Member's Bills in particular, described them as Henry VIII powers with knobs on. The amendments would improve the Bill without harming the effect that we want it to have because they would restrict the ability of a future Government or Minister to abuse those powers.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

I rise with pleasure to respond to the points that have been made, and I will endeavour to do so as briefly as possible.

I turn first to the point made by Mr. Robathan about the balance to be struck in making legislation effective. I agree that there must be a balance, but I say to all hon. Members that we have to be very careful; we must enable the Government to make regulations that tackle the problem in an appropriate and measured way.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

On a point of clarification, the Minister said that the Government should make regulations, but surely the Government and Parliament together make regulations. That is the point at issue. Perhaps the Minister will clarify in her own mind whether she thinks that the Government have an absolute right to make regulations, or whether she thinks that there should be parliamentary involvement.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health 11:00 am, 13th June 2003

I stand corrected. It is clear that Parliament makes those regulations.

Amendment No. 40 is subject to affirmative resolution, despite the comments of Mr. Chope, and would allow full, detailed decisions to be made by Parliament under the affirmative procedure. However, it would also remove our ability to define fireworks or substitute a definition. We can compromise, but that may remove the House's ability in future to pass regulations and primary legislation to address an as yet unforeseen development in categorisation, such as something falling outside the definition of fireworks but nonetheless having the same sort of impact and effect. I hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch understands that that is why clause 1(2) was included in the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Can the Minister assure the House that that power would not be used to extend the category of fireworks to include things which the Bill's promoter assured us on Second Reading would not be included? Does she also accept that no Government or Parliament can legislate for all possible contingencies? Surely, if and when such contingencies arise, Parliament should then look at them. Something fundamental like the definition of fireworks is a matter for primary legislation.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

That is why the provision is as close to primary legislation as possible, and will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Debate and a positive decision by the House will be needed if such changes are to be made. I am not going to spend a long time debating this. I would like to respond to the points that have been made rather than keep taking interventions.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

I am grateful to the Minister. It is important that the Bill's provisions are clarified in debate. Is the Minister saying that clause 1(2) is currently subject to affirmative resolution?

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

To be absolutely clear, under clause 16(2), the matter raised in amendment No. 40 is subject to affirmative resolution. I am correcting the misinformation that the hon. Member for Christchurch gave the House. I am sure that that was not intentional, but his information was not correct. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend Mr. Tynan about amendment No. 66. There is no intention to do anything about class 1 and class 2 fireworks.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

Can I just make some remarks, in the light of which the hon. Gentleman may wish to reconsider making an intervention?

Amendment No. 66 is perfectly acceptable to us, but I have some difficulties with amendment No. 40 for the reasons that I have given. However, I trust that the assurances that I have given the House will be sufficient for the Opposition Members who tabled that amendment. I do not remember the hon. Member for Christchurch commenting on his intentions, save for his belief that certain things needed to be clarified. I take at face value the comment of Mr. Leigh that he is not trying to kill the Bill. However, I have a cutting from the Grimsby Telegraph from 29 July 1998, in which a senior member of the Conservative party in the locality publicly bemoans the fact that he killed the Bill's predecessor.

We must all be careful to strike the right balance and make legislation that works effectively. I entirely agree with Opposition Members that we need to make sure that fireworks continue to be available for public use and can still be enjoyed by many people on different occasions, as they have been for decades if not centuries.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I am grateful for the Minister's apparent acceptance of amendment No. 66—we are making progress. However, I do not want her to conclude without dealing with the decibel point, which is crucial to the whole industry.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

I do not want to seem uncharitable by not giving way, but some Opposition Members are simply spending time urging me to discuss things that I have not yet had a chance to deal with.

However, as the hon. Member for Gainsborough has raised the question of noise, I shall address it now. We have been taking a further look at the work done by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In the spirit of consensus, which we all think is important, the Health and Safety Executive took a further look at its work on the 95 dB limit. However, the RSPCA's work on that limit appears to be flawed. Personally, I would have preferred to have evidence before me, but the Bill's progress should not be halted purely by the question of whether or not the House has an assurance today about a limit of 120 dB. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South in giving an assurance that we will stick to the 120 dB limit when implementing the Bill.

Some Opposition Members are pressing us to accept an amendment in another place, and I fear that I must address that directly. We would not be content to accept such an amendment for the simple reason that it would have to be considered further by the Commons, so the Bill would go back and forth between the two Houses. I warn the Opposition that if that were the case, there is a risk that the Bill, given its timetabled passage as a private Member's Bill, would be lost and would not reach the statute book. That is my only reason for objecting to an amendment being accepted in the other place.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Will the Minister accept an assurance from my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh and me, as the Members who are concerned about this issue, that if such an amendment were accepted in the other place we would not impede the free passage of the Bill through the Commons? It is a pity that this issue was not addressed in Committee, as we could have finished dealing with it today. However, it is important that it should be included in the Bill, and I assure the hon. Lady that we will not block the Bill if it is.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

I am content with the assurances that the hon. Gentleman gives on behalf of the hon. Member for Gainsborough and himself. Unfortunately, however, the Conservative ranks are clearly not united on these issues. There is always a possibility that other Members will do what the hon. Member for Christchurch assured me he will not do. If, after this debate, a concrete assurance was given and Government business managers were happy to accept it, that would be a matter for them and their Opposition counterparts. However, on the basis of this morning's debate, we are not confident that the Bill's passage will not be impeded.

Mr. Field sought an assurance about the Bill's compatibility with human rights legislation. I assure him that it is fully compatible with the requirements of such legislation—Ministers only sign off Bills when they are certain that they are. Finally, on the question of injuries, none of us should belittle the injuries that have occurred both this year and in previous years. However, I would like to point out that there has been a big drop in injuries over the past year. It is a welcome drop from a figure that was too high, but because we do not have the legislative means that the Bill would provide, we cannot do more than we are doing to tackle the matter of injuries. I trust that the House will speedily see the Bill through its remaining stages here this morning.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We have made great progress. I am grateful to Mr. Tynan for indicating to me that he was prepared to accept both amendments, and I am grateful to the Minister for indicating that she is prepared to accept amendment No. 66. I am also grateful to both of them for indicating that they accept the argument that there is no case for reducing the decibel level for fireworks below 120 dB.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

We are almost there, but the Minister said that she would not object to a provision in the Bill dealing with the decibel limit, except for the fact that it might lead to further delays. She wanted concrete assurances. I am sure that my hon. Friend Mr. Chope could catch the eye of my hon. Friend Mr. Robathan on the Front Bench, so that such assurances could be given.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

Notwithstanding the fact that every Member of the House is a free spirit, I can assure the House that the Front Bench, with the support of the Whips, will try its utmost not to impede any amendment from the other place relating to the figure of 120 dB.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is for the usual channels to discuss the matter fully and determine the outcome. I have made clear our position and our only reservation. I want to make it clear to hon. Members that although we would be content to accept amendment No. 66, unfortunately we are not content to accept amendment No. 40, which is subject to affirmative resolution.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am sorry that the Minister is not prepared to accept amendment No. 40. As I understood it, the Bill's promoter considered it a reasonable amendment. We may have to press the matter to a Division and test the will of the House.

Perhaps the Minister is constrained by the Government approach: they want to keep open as many options as possible, but as Members of the House, we wish to keep some control over the matter within our remit. One way in which we could do that would be to ensure that changing the definition of fireworks had to be the subject of proper primary legislation, which could be debated and amended in the usual way, rather than through regulation, even by the affirmative procedure.

On the substantive issue, we have made enormous progress in clarifying beyond peradventure that the Government believe that the 120 dB limit should be the lowest limit. That is in line with the view of the British Fireworks Association and with what is being contemplated in Europe. The only issue now is how we can ensure that the expressed will of the House can be written into the Bill, to prevent the possibility of a single-issue factor in the future putting pressure on the Government to amend it. That is why I should like the figure of 120 dB, which is fundamental to the future of the British fireworks industry and fireworks as we know them, to be written into the Bill.

The Minister said that she was concerned that if the clause were amended in the other place, the entire Bill may fall, but I hope that, as she said, the matter can be sorted out through the usual channels, because we are here to try together to improve legislation where it can be improved.

I regret that in all the earlier statements from both the Minister and the promoter there was insufficient clarity on the issue. If there had been proper clarity, we could probably have tabled the amendment in Committee, it would have been accepted on Report, and the Bill could have gone through in that form. Perhaps it is a feature of the House that we do not have as many stages for considering a Bill as they do in their lordships' House. That is a matter that the Procedure Committee may want to consider on a future occasion.

I am grateful to the Minister for her acceptance. I hope that it is shared by other hon. Members. I should like to press amendment No. 40 to a Division, as it involves an issue of principle. A fundamental change to the definition of fireworks should be the subject of primary, rather than secondary, legislation.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 6, Noes 85.

Division number 230 Fireworks Bill — Clause 1 — Introduction

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 85 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly negatived.